As the school year gears up, many students in their final year of education will be seeking internship positions to complete their studies and gain a “leg up” in the task of finding work. In some cases, a successful internship must be achieved as an essential component embedded in the degree or certificate program being studied.
Within any internship relationship, there are two players: the mentor assigned by the business benefactor and the intern seeking to complete their studies with an applied practical work experience.
Every day, there are news commentaries about the state of internships, employment and industry. Some articles advocate internships as inspired opportunities, yet others are disparaging to business benefactors who have abused their interns for menial labour tasks, offering zero in terms of career path development for the industry newbie.
So how does an intern or a business determine their readiness for this often undefined and unregulated component of education and industry? For a meaningful internship, it is critical for both parties to establish an open communication and clarity of expectation.
For a business who may be seeking an intern, consider what experiences and work exposure you can offer during the specified internship period. If you are thinking an intern may be helpful during a particularly busy time, be sure you consider whether the mentor or department to which the intern is assigned will have the additional time available to ensure explanation and a deeper learning platform than simply execution of the tasks. It is a serious mistake to consider an intern as ‘free’ labour.
On behalf of your selected intern, evaluate whether you can offer access to a wider network of industry colleagues who may be able to fill in areas of expertise not applied within your own business operation.
Are you positioned as a facilitator to aid the future success of your intern?
For the summer of 2012, I had the best experience with an international intern, Laura Zambon. Zambon had only completed one year of her four year program of study at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. Zambon’s outreach for her intern opportunity was fully self-motivated and supported by her instructor although it was not compulsory. She simply wanted to learn more about “events” and see how they fit in with her career path in public relations. I was able to fulfill the exposure to many different types of events. However, as we are not a PR firm, the learning exposure specific to public relations was limited. In order to offer a well-rounded experience, Zambon was introduced to Lea Parrell of Harmony Public Relations where she was able to affirm her career direction.
Resulting from this introduction, Zambon returned to Toronto for the summer of 2013 to intern directly with this excellent public relations firm. Entering her third year of study, she already has her sites set on an internship with an international firm for next summer.
“International internships are rewarding yet hard work requiring lots of effort when you are learning both how to do the job as well as how to live in a different country,” says Zambon. “It is truly life enriching and valuable. It really broadens your horizon.”
Not all interns have the personal drive and motivation demonstrated by Laura Zambon.
Seek the right intern for the tasks you have in mind. Before agreeing to take on an intern, interview the intern to determine if what you can offer is suitable to the learning needs of the individual. This relationship is meant to be a win-win for both the intern and the business benefactor. There is no point in investing the highly valued time of a business mentor with someone who is not seriously committed to their own personal growth and education. An intern who can’t show up for work on time is either not very committed or perhaps does not yet know the protocols of actual work relations.
An effective way of working with an intern may be to establish a written ‘contract’ where the opportunity offered is outlined by the business benefactor. In addition, the services or engagement expected of the intern must be identified. Be sure to be clear of time commitment expected, as well as any physical expectations such as truck loading, ladder climbing or even box schlepping should that be a component of the work the intern may experience.
Another opportunity may be well served by partnering as business benefactors and “intern-sharing”. However, this can become a bit convoluted and confusing if not well-managed between the departments or businesses that are participating.
It is important for the intern to identify their own learning needs and to ensure they can engage with many departments within the business in advance of accepting an internship. Whilst it may appear the business is gaining from “free” labour, let us realize that “free” labour is not free when the business mentor invests in growing the knowledge domains and facilitates the practical experience for the intern.
No doubt in a positive intern relationship, there is an exchange of benefits to both parties that are much greater than the sum of a weekly paycheque!